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Practitioner's viewpoint - June 22

04 July 2022

With the recent Diamond Jubilee celebrations taking place, Louise Ward uses this month's column to share her experience of meeting the Queen and the impact it has had on her.

I AM drafting this column over the long Diamond Jubilee bank holiday weekend. The TV and media are full of stories about the life and service of Her Majesty our Queen, and the way that she has touched the lives of so many people during her 70 years on the throne.

I was lucky enough to meet the Queen myself a number of years ago. I was undertaking a gap year volunteering with the British Red Cross, and was invited to be part of a team providing medical cover for one of the summer garden parties. It was an extremely hot day, and we were rushed off our feet as soon as the palace gates were opened. Guests who had travelled long distances, then waited in the blazing sun, were suffering from heat exhaustion before the proceedings had even begun, and rather than waiting quietly out of the way in the garden in case we were required, we were swiftly summoned to the front of the palace to provide assistance. There were only a few of us on duty, but we were ably assisted by the palace staff who calmly and quietly provided cool water, placed chairs in the shade and adapted the exacting event planning to suit the needs of the guests, without any fuss or complaint, ensuring that everyone was able to recover and go on to enjoy the event in their own time.

Late on in the afternoon the Queen herself visited our medical post. It was really special moment. She was clearly well aware of how busy we’d been, and specifically asked after one lady who had been taken to hospital for treatment. She spent time chatting with us, showing a genuine interest us, our lives and our work with the Red Cross. The thanked us for our service and made each of us feel hugely valued and appreciated. 

The day was an amazing experience, and I’m sure that every single person, staff, guest and volunteer, left the palace feeling special.

It was only years later, when I was telling a colleague about this experience, that I realised it’s a great example of the power of leadership. The Queen and the Palace Team host dozens of such events every year, but they are obviously very conscious that for each guest it is a once in a lifetime experience. The Queen was clearly very committed to ensuring that everyone felt relaxed and able to enjoy themselves as her guests, and her team responded, ensuring that everyone was welcomed, taken care of and supported, with kindness and understanding.

Too often in business we think of leaders as the people standing at the front making big statements and directing proceedings, but for me leadership is something much more subtle. It’s about setting the tone. Not just in big set piece speeches, meetings and events, but every single day through your behaviours, interactions and insights. We can all rise to the occasion and perform for big events, but to constantly and consistently set the tone for the organisation is a much bigger ask which requires dedication, self awareness, confidence, commitment and hard work! 

I think they key is to make sure that you set realistic aspirations. People look to a leader to set the tone through their behaviours, so you need to be able to reflect the aspirations in everything that you do, so that you set clear expectations for your team follow. Just like Her Majesty, a leader is never off duty. Every action and interaction you have is observed by your team who will respond not just to what you say, but most importantly what you do and how you behave.

For me leadership is about service and engagement, not glory, power or personal achievement. Effective leaders inspire others to engage in a shared aspiration, and empower everyone to get involved. Success is celebrated, and failure is shared and analysed so that learning can be used to drive positive improvement. I don’t think it’s ever done. It’s an ongoing commitment, something you have to work at consistently every single day.

So thank you Your Majesty for 70 years of hard work, service and commitment. For me you are an exemplary leader, and I will treasure my memory of that special day. It was a privilege to be part of your team.

Louise Ward is safety & sustainability director at G&W UK – Safety. For more information, visit www.gwrr.co.uk